Let's skip the BS. Even with a welcomed waterfowl survey that won't help waterfowlers get any extra sleep between now and opener, we're in trouble. Maybe not today. Maybe not even in the next ten years. But what will waterfowling look like twenty years from today?
Let's get a few things straight first. I'm a duck and goose hunter as was my dad and my granddaddy and so many generations before me. It's in my blood and God-willing my kids will be able to enjoy what has become such a major part of my life. I've scoured this great state (MN) in search of hidden waterfowl oases and found them. I'm more of a fan of creating the "good 'ol days" than sitting around talking about them and so I've come to the conclusion that excellent waterfowling is still a possibility for those willing to look for it.
But I still have something sticking in my craw that won't go away.
Before us is a generation of young people that for the most part, have not experienced waterfowling (or the outdoors in general) like you and I have. In fact, since 2001, waterfowl hunters have dropped 27%. Some who hunt near large metro areas rejoice with this number. "More room for me" is a typical response. But what happens when that 27% turns into 35%? And then 41%? Thirty years from now when my kids are my age and the numbers of waterfowlers are much less than now, who then will be footing the bill for more habitat? The same burden we have now will be there but with less people to carry it. Our voice will be more of a whisper than a shout.
Delta Waterfowl's popular "Vanishing Hunter" series touched on this in 2008. It was eye opening for many readers but what have we done about it?
Delta, DU, MWA and others have become more youth orientated with their funds. Events like the Youth Waterfowl Day, Take-A-Kid Fishing and the Woodie Camp exist but at the same time, we are struggling to introduce and retain hunters. There is nothing wrong with these events except they give us the impression that we're doing more than we really are. Except for Woodie Camp, these are one-day events that take a years worth of planning for a very small amount of interaction with potential future sportsmen and women. The event itself is not a bad thing. The problem lies with the remaining 360 something days of the year. Their are countless other opportunities pulling those same kids away from the outdoors that we cannot hope that a one day event is going to keep them interested until next year.
So what's the answer?
I propose an overhaul of how we attempt to recruit and retain hunters. It sounds like a lot of work but truly the hardest part will be killing a few traditions and the way things have always been done. What I'm going to introduce in my next blog works. Ten years ago I would have never guessed how rewarding and life changing it would be. At this point in my life, it's what I live for.
ps...A little side-note about Woodie Camp. While at the Game Fair, I was able to talk to a few kids who experienced it. It was evident that this program instilled an excitement in these young kids that would be hard to shake. Let's hope it continues and that those who went to the camp can pass it on to others this fall. I think this goes to show how an extended time with mentors in an outdoor setting can be effective.